Non-Traditional Motor Vehicles and DC Law

Legal requirements to Register and Operate a Motor Vehicle
In the D.C. Code, motor vehicles are defined as vehicles propelled by an internal-combustion engine, electricity, or steam. [1] This definition encompasses non-traditional motor vehicles. Therefore, the four main requirements for the operation of motor vehicles all apply: registration, driver’s license, inspection, and insurance. [2] All traffic laws, such as reckless driving, also apply, [3] except as discussed below.

Safety Requirements
All motor vehicles in the District of Columbia must have a certification label that identifies the manufacturer, the date of manufacture, and the statement: “This vehicle conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) in effect on the date of manufacture shown above.”[4]

Motorcycles vs. Motorized Bicycles
If the non-traditional vehicle has two or three wheels, it falls under one of two subcategories of motor vehicle: motorcycle or motorized bicycle. Vehicle Type Definition Inspection License Required Insurance Registration Helmet Permitted Permitted Parking Required Required Required Required on on Bike Sidewalk Lanes
Motorcycle A motorcycle is any motor vehicle other than a motorized bicycle having either a tandem arrangement of two (2) wheels or a tricyclic arrangement of three (3) wheels and having a seat or saddle for the use of the operator, but not including a tractor..[5], Yes, must be inspected for emissions every two (2) years. [6] Yes, operator must pass a motorcycle demonstration test in DC or motorcycle demonstration course in VA or MD, and have an “M” endorsement on operator’s license. [7] Yes, must meet the Compulsory No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act limits. [8] Yes; $52. [9] Non-DC vehicles must meet their state’s registration requirements. Yes. [10] No No Motor vehicles rules apply, except that some areas are reserved for motorcycles only

Motorized Bicycle

A motorized bicycle is a two or three wheeled vehicle with all of the following characteristics: 1) wheels 16 inches or more in diameter, 2) seat or saddle for the operator 3) automatic transmission, 4) piston displacement of not more than fifty (50) cubic centimeters, 5) incapable of maximum speed of over 35 miles per hour on level ground, and 6) not more than one and one-half (1.5) brake horsepower (S.A.E. rating). If the motor vehicle does not meet all of these characteristics, it is a motorcycle. [5]

Yes, must be inspected for emissions every two (2) years. [6]

Yes, operator must have a driver’s license[12], but does not need an “M” endorsement.

Yes, must meet the Compulsory No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act limits. [8]

Yes; $30. [9] Non-DC vehicles must meet their state’s registration requirements.

No.

No.

Yes. [11]

May be parked in a bike rack or on a curb so as not to impede pedestrian traffic. [11]

Non-Traditional Motor Vehicles and DC Law
Additional Vehicles
If the non-traditional vehicle has two or three wheels, it falls under one of two subcategories of motor vehicle: motorcycle or motorized bicycle. Vehicle Type Definition Inspection License Required Insurance Registration Helmet Permitted Permitted Parking Required Required Required Required on on Bike Sidewalk Lanes
All-Terrain Vehicles and Dirt Bikes An all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”) is defined as any motor vehicle with not less than three low pressure tires, but not more than six low pressure tires, designed primarily for off-road use and which has a seat or saddle designed to be straddled by the operator. A dirt bike is defined as any motorcycle designed primarily for off-road use. [13] Low speed vehicle means any four wheeled motor vehicle whose top speed is greater than 20 miles per hour, but not greater than 25 miles per hour. [15] N/A. It is a criminal offense to operate an ATV or a dirt bike on any public property in the District. ATVs and dirt bikes are not permitted to be registered in the District. [14]

Low Speed Vehicles

Yes [6]

Yes [12]

Yes [11]

Yes; $72 [9] Non-DC vehicles must meet their state’s registration requirements.

No

No

No

Motor vehicle rules apply.

Personal Mobility Devices (PMD)

Personal Mobility Devices (“PMD”) means a motorized propulsion device designed to transport one person or a selfbalancing, two non-tandem wheeled device, designed to transport only one person with an electric propulsion system. [15]

No. By definition, PMDs are not considered motor vehicles. [1]

No

Yes, except PMDs are generally not permitted on sidewalk space in the Central Business District. [16]

Yes

PMDs may be parked in a bike rack or on a curb so as not to impede pedestrian traffic.

Non-Traditional Motor Vehicles and DC Law
Notes
[1] D.C. Official Code § 50-1501.01; Specifically excluded from the definition of a motor vehicle for purposes of registration are , road rollers, farm tractors, vehicles propelled only upon rails or tracks, electric personal mobility devices (e.g. Segway), and battery-operated wheelchairs when operated by a person with a disability. [2] D.C. Official Code §§ 50-1501.02, 50-1401.01 et seq., 50-1101; and 31-2403, respectively. Even when the vehicle is operated without turning on the engine, as can be done with some mopeds, the vehicle nevertheless is regulated as a motor vehicle. [3] See, e.g., United States v. Stancil, 422 A.2d 1285 (D.C. 1980). [4] 18 DMCR § 700.9. [5] 18 DMCR § 9901. . [6] 18 DCMR § 601 et seq. [7] 18 DCMR 107.13 [8] See D.C. Official Code 31-2401 et seq. [9] D.C. Official Code § 50-1501.03. [10] 18 DCMR § 2215. [11] 18 DCMR §§ 1201.17 and 1209. [12] See D.C. Official Code § 50-1401.01. [13] D.C. Official Code § 50-2201.02 [14] D.C. Official Code § 50-2201.04b. [15] D.C. Official Code § 50-2201.02 (12). [16] 18 DCMR § 1201.9

Pictures of motorcycles courtesy of American Honda Motor Company, Inc. and Yamaha Motor Corporation; pictures of motorized bicycle courtesy of Piaggio USA, Inc. and the California Highway Patrol; picture of dirt bike courtesy of American Honda Motor Company, Inc.; picture of off-road vehicle courtesy of Yamaha Motor Corporation; picture of Gem Car courtesy of Global Electric Motorcars; Picture of Segway courtesy of Segway Inc. Rev. 7/3/12